Minolta Dynax 5 Review
The best SLR on the market?
I've never been a big believer in brand loyalty. In my time I've used cameras from Konica, Yashica, Pentax, Contax, Olympus, Fuji and Minolta. The only one which has never had so much as a hiccup and produces great exposures every time is my Minolta 600si. But when people ask me to recommend a good value SLR I always choose the Canon EOS 300, which I've never even used!
The Dynax 5 is the sort of camera you can just set to "P" and fire away.
It's always been an easy recommendation. The EOS 300 does everything a more expensive camera would do but is cheap, small and light, and easy to use. You have access to the full range of Canon lenses, including Image Stabilisers and the like which aren't available for Minolta cameras. The old Minolta 404si and 505si were clearly no match for the Canon. Nikon and Pentax made equivalent models too, but there was no reason to recommend any of these over the excellent Canon.
But there's a new kid on the block, (first available in the UK only a few weeks ago) and now I have two stock recommendations. For people who want the beginnings of a camera system, and are likely to eventually buy some expensive lenses and other kit, I recommend the EOS 300. For people who just want the best camera for the money, I recommend the Dynax 5.
It's small and silver. It's VERY small, in fact. And light. But it doesn't feel flimsy - it feels light and compact but sturdy. Nice to hold.
What doesn't it do?
With a camera like this, there's not much point explaining all the features and what it can do, suffice to say there's nothing missing. It has all the features of my 600si, including depth of field preview and there are some new ones like flash metering based on distance (when used with the special D series Minolta lenses). It even has a slightly faster motorwind than the 600si, at 3 frames per second. This is the main area where it beats the Canon EOS 300 which only winds the film at a weedy 1 frame per second.
This shot could have confused the camera meter, with the dark shadows and silhouetted trees in the centre of the frame. Dynax 5 has coped perfectly with the situation.
Minolta figured out how to do automatic exposure properly some time ago. I think ever since then the 14-segment honeycomb metering has been the same on all their cameras. It works very well indeed, and every shot on the roll of 36 slides I shot with the Dynax 5 was well exposed, despite the fact I was trying to fool it with difficult lighting situations. So even for slide film users, exposure compensation would only be needed in very unusual situations, and print film users can happily leave exposure to the camera and concentrate on composition instead!
Most camera magazines seem to go to great lengths trying to discern the slight differences in focusing speed, accuracy etc between various autofocus cameras. I'm never terribly impressed and prefer to use manual focus. But the Dynax 5 definitely seemed faster to focus than my 600si. The Dynax 7, big brother to the 5, is supposed to be the fastest of all the autofocus cameras, but from my brief test of the 7 in Jessops I couldn't tell much difference between it and the 5 in terms of focussing speed.
My Dynax 600si has a lovely bright, clear viewfinder. I was expecting the 5 to be a letdown in comparison, considering how small the camera is. I was pleasantly surprised - the viewfinder on the Dynax 5 is just as crisp and bright as on the 600si, with the same viewfinder information.
Whereas the 600si just used to focus on the centre of the frame, the 5, like the EOS300, has several focusing points. Unlike the EOS300, the 5 tells you which one it is focusing on - it lights up red in the viewfinder. This is neat, although I question the value of the various focus points, which seem to make autofocus even more of a hit-and-miss affair than it already is.
This brings me to another neat feature of the Dynax 5 - everything can be customised. Don't like the bleep when the camera has focussed? Turn it off. Don't like the eye-start feature? Turn it off. Don't like the multiple focus points? You can set it always to focus on the centre. Just about every aspect of the camera can be customised, although you'll have to look in the manual to find out how to do it - there's no way you could guess what setting "Custom program 8 to setting 3" would do without the manual!
This camera is a bit like Windows 95 - there are always about 5 different ways of doing any particular thing. Whether you think this is user friendly or just added confusion is a matter of personal taste. The Dynax 5 certainly lacks the instant familiarity of the 600si and the Dynax 7 with their old-fashioned style dials. But at least it doesn't have a Gameboy welded onto the back of it like the Dynax 7 does! And there's a very handy "P" button which resets everything to default, but keeps your custom settings. It resets everything which might spoil your shot (like exposure compensation, or putting the camera into manual mode) but keeps your custom settings.
The bottom line
I enjoyed using the Dynax 5. It's smaller and lighter than the 600si but has an equally good viewfinder, equally good autoexposure, better autofocusing, faster motorwind and some new flash features. I don't regret buying my 600si about 5 years ago, and I'm sure anyone who buys a Dynax 5 today will feel the same way about it in 5 years time. It's getting harder to recommend the EOS300, but I'd still recommend it to anyone who wants to build a whole camera system and might want an image stabiliser lens, an underwater housing, a digital body, an APS body etc, all of which are available for the Canon system but not Minolta.
So to go back to my headline, how can I justify calling the Dynax 5 the "best SLR on the market?"
Well, look at the specifications below and see if there's anything that you want it to do which it doesn't do. I suspect not. Then bear in mind that it's about as small and light as 35mm SLRs get, look at the price, and see whether anything else beats it. It might not be "better" than a Nikon F5, but for most people it is, because unless you're a professional photographer you don't want to have to worry about something as expensive or as heavy as an F5.
The data below is reproduced from Minolta's website. Please note I am in no way associated with Minolta and this review represents my impartial opinion.